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HTF REVIEW: TAPS - 25th Anniversary Edition
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Posted September 12 2006 - 05:41 AM
Release Date: September 12, 2006.
Film Rating: /
Starring: Timothy Hutton (Cadet Major Brian Moreland), Sean Penn (Cadet Captain Alex Dwyer), Tom Cruise (Cadet Captain David Shawn), Ronny Cox (Colonel Kerby), George C. Scott (General Harlan Bache)
Novel By: Devery Freeman (Father Sky)
Adaptation by: Darryl Ponicsan, Robert Mark Kaman, James Lineberger
Directed by: Harold Becker
This school is our home, we think it's worth defending.
TAPS is a great film. I loved it because it seemed authentic; conversations between characters seemed natural and not some fabricated story, even though it is. This film also includes very early performances from three highly successful film stars today: Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, and Tom Cruise. Barely in their 20s (Cruise was 17), these actors are viewed with excellent performances having rigidity, emotion, and a real human connection.
The film is about cadets at Bunker Hill Academy, a fictional academy filmed at a real military academy in a posh little town. Behind the gates, the young students as young as 10 and others well into their early twenties are trained to be soldiers. They also learn about honour as one of things that can’t be taken away from a man.
The cadets soon learn that the academy is about to be closed and mowed down for condo development. They are appalled at the decision to have it closed as many of them feel it is their home. With their General in the hospital, Cadet Major Brian Moreland decides to mobilize his troops of children to take over the academy baring arms.
At the gates of this confined academy, the cops try their best to get the Cadets to stand down. But when that fails the state governor organizes the military to take them down by force if they don’t comply, since it is their view the Cadets have illegally seized state property (the weapons). While the Cadets believe they are on the right side doing it for honour, they don’t grasp the often fatal consequences of their actions. It's a film about small sacrifices and the big picture.
TAPS is a gripping, emotional film, and is created on a serious level. It is not light-hearted, full of jokes, nor is it a ‘happy’ film by any means. For these reasons it’s unlike other ‘Hollywood’ unrealities that keep the audience in a cheer. The nature of this film is downbeat and will probably be too stressful for kids under 10 despite the story revolving around young children and their decisions during their ordeal. As an adult viewer, there is no denying the accurate portrayal of emotions by these actors. It’s a film well done.
VIDEO QUALITY /
When rating the video quality of this DVD up to the best of the best, it’s not as pristine as I’d wish it was. There is no doubt Fox did put some care into this DVD for the 25th Anniversary of this film, but the result is still a mediocre presentation from the original source material.
The image adequately displays a dim, overcast-grey image. It rains a lot in this film (not by the filmmaker’s choice) so cloudy skies are very common. Interior scenes are just as dim for the most part; low lighting is used in the boys’ rooms during the siege thus many of the picture’s darkest parts lack detail. Interiors are also warmer looking with the colours orange and brown standing out a bit more. Flesh tones can be variable between actors but usually consistent for each actor. Some look pale and others look a little more orange in the interior settings.
I’m not sure if this is the best film element available. There is a considerable amount of film grain throughout the film and can occasionally be disruptive for the viewing experience. One can notice MPEG artefacts as it tries to sort out the grain resulting in minor compression artefacts. On my 110” screen this is noticeable because it’s like putting it under a microscope. Smaller screens won’t display this so most people don’t have to worry much.
Edge enhancement is not a problem but some thin dark image outlining from MPEG2 compression is noticeable. The theatrical ratio is 1.85:1 but this DVD is showing the movie slightly under that, probably around 1.80:1-1.82:1, if anyone cares. Oddly, the special featurette on this disc has the film correctly framed at 1.85:1. Go figure.
AUDIO QUALITY /
At my reference level, the soundtrack is quieter than newer films. It is mostly dialogue-driven and there is very little music. There are a few key scenes with music: the ‘live’ music of the marching band, the assembly at the beginning of the film, and the horn when playing Taps. There is little else as far as a film score goes.
In Chapter 7, the marching band sounds good. It is limited in dynamics and realism and offers some stereo spread. Fidelity is lacking in most sounds such as the clapping of hands when the General addresses the Cadets. Surround usage is limited; it is a 4.0 soundtrack, so the surround channel is mono, but it is occasionally effective such as the echoes from the General’s voice as it’s amplified for all the Cadets to hear. The mono surround is unfortunately is directly behind your head because your brain will sum left-right surround to mono-center, so any sense of space behind the listener is mostly diminished.
Dialogue is firmly anchored in the center channel. It doesn’t project ambience very well and sometimes it can sound very veiled. A random amount of hiss comes and goes in each of the front channels for little apparent reason. Some of it is behind the dialogue but comes and goes in a single sentence. The opening scene has it in the left channel but then disappears after a few minutes.
The soundtrack also has many missed opportunities to sound more expansive. The rain pouring down outside is always confined in the center and even when the tanks begin rolling in, it is center-heavy. The sound effects can also be considered as screechy ‘bright.’
TACTILE FUN!! ZERO /
TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: OFF
Tactile ratings are based on the information in the dedicated LFE channel only. Bass from any other channel has not been rerouted to the LFE. For “shaking” purposes, I’m interested only in the bass the LFE provides to enhance the bass in all other channels. It also gives me a good indication of how much of that “.1 LFE” channel is used on each film. A Clark Synthesis TST-429 is used on an AudioSource AMP5.3, an AudioQuest Diamondback interconnect and Crankin’ Cable 12-awg speaker wire.
There is no LFE channel and I didn’t redirect any bass to it from the main channels.
SPECIAL FEATURES /
The special features may not be generous in quantity, but as history tells us the quantity isn’t what counts. TAPS has two very good featurettes featuring all-new interviews with Timothy Hutton, Ronny Cox, director Harold Becker and others.
Sounding the Call to Arms: Mobilizing the TAPS Generation is a 30-minute featurette that goes into some very good detail about the makings of this film. While there is no behind the scenes footage, there is much discussion about it through interviews with the above mentioned. This featurette is put together well and worth the 30 minute sitting. It is enhanced for widescreen televisions and the whole program’s aspect ratio is 1.85:1 (the movie is framed slightly under).
The Bugler’s Cry: The Origins of Playing ‘Taps’ (6m55s – 16:9) tells the history behind ‘Taps’ like how it was written and by whom. It is undeniably recognizable by most of the population.
The disc also includes an audio commentary by director Harold Becker who is a pleasure to listen to. He rarely takes time for a pause and has a lot to say about the film, the bright youth of Timothy Hutton, Tom Cruise, and all of the 'goods' and the 'bads' filming with the cadets in the real military academy. It’s worth the listen.
Also included are two theatrical teasers, two TV spots, a workprint trailer (all non-anamorphic widescreen and 4:3) and a widescreen enhanced theatrical trailer that sounds a bit rough in the audio.
IN THE END…
If it were 1981, I would recommend this as one of the best films of the year and a ‘must see’ for theatrical goers. But it’s 2006, and what the heck, I’m still going to rate this film highly as a must-see DVD! In 1981 there were various reviews on the film ranging from great to mediocre, but when comparing it to some of the crap I see today, this film is a different kind of gem and worth watching.
September 12, 2006.
Warner Bros. Blu-ray Reviewer
Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment Blu-ray Reviewer
THX/ISF Professional Video Calibrator
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